Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
The Allure of Limoncello
Suspended between sea and sky of iridescent blue is Costiera Amalfitana, a jagged vertical landscape of ridge, rock, and scarp. A spiderweb of stairways crisscrosses the face of the cliffside, linking tiny villages of white-washed houses.
Costiera Amalfitana, or the Amalfi Coast, draws you in with its verdant colorful landscape, its breathtaking vistas of the Mediterranean Sea, and the fragrance of Sfusato lemons—the lemons of limoncello.
Three Tales, One Truth
There is not one, but three stories of limoncello, that sweet-tart aperitif of the Amalfi Coast.
Our first story takes place in the Middle Ages, at a monastery clinging to the vertical landscape that would become the town of Positano. In the 12th century, the Benedictine monks of Santa Maria Assunta tended their gardens, harvesting vegetables, gathering herbs, and lovingly overseeing the sun-kissed fruits in their lemon grove. Those trees responded in kind with large, thick-skinned lemons, adored not for their juice but for the heady flavor and fragrance of the citrus oil in the rinds. The monks had the knowledge and skill to craft spirits and with those prized lemon rinds, they crafted limoncello, a sweet indulgence to be sipped after vespers.
"Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone. Its houses climb a hill so steep it would be a cliff except that stairs are cut in it. The small curving bay of unbelievably blue water laps gently on a beach of small pebbles. There is only one narrow street and it does not come down to the water. Everything else is stairs, some of them as steep as ladders. You do not walk to visit a friend, you climb or slide."
— John Steinbeck, May 1953 Harper’s Bazaar (excerpts)
Another tale would lead us to believe that fishermen of the Middle Ages used this heady beverage to ward off the early morning chill. Perhaps they had a bartering system arranged with the monks?
And then there is the more recent story of Maria Antonia Farace, a woman who lived on the isle of Capri. It is said that in 1900 she owned and operated a small inn where she served her guests a sweet-tart liquor from the lemons that grew in her lavish citrus garden. Maria and the beverage remained in relative obscurity until after World War II when her grandson opened a bar and began serving his guests his nana’s lemon liquor.
This third story has been given more credibility because it is the Farace family that registered the trademark for Limoncello. In 1988, Maria Antonia's great-grandson and Capri businessman, Massimo Canale, sealed the deal with the Italian Association of Wine/Liqueur Producers.
1. Homemade Limoncello
Yes, you can make your own limoncello. Organic lemons are a must, and keep in mind that it takes at least eight days to extract the flavor from the lemon rind (three weeks is optimum). This could be a great Christmas gift, so plan ahead. (By the way, limoncello lasts forever in the freezer),
2. Shrimp Crostini
Limoncello is more than a refreshing aperitif; it can be used in so many ways, from appetizer to main dish to dessert. Let's start with this sweet-savory appetizer. Hints of lemon, seafood, and caramelized garlic blend together in this limoncello shrimp crostini. Lemon enhances the flavor of any seafood, and using limoncello makes this appetizer quick to fix (and delicious).
3. Risotto With Limoncello
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 3/4 cups arborio rice
- 1/4 cup limoncello
- 4 1/4 cups vegetable broth heated to a simmer
- Zest of 1/2 organic lemon
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil and rice. Cook, stirring constantly until the grains of rice are coated with oil and begin to toast.
- Stir in the limoncello and cook until absorbed.
- Add 1 cup broth, reduce heat to low, and stir until broth is almost absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring until rice is creamy and tender but still firm in the center. This should take about 15 to 18 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan and remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.
Translated from Italian
4. Salmon Scampi
The marriage of salmon and lemon is a popular pairing; they're simply suited for each like peas and carrots, peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs. So what makes this salmon scampi unique? Instead of lemon and white wine (the foundation for most scampi dishes), Adria uses limoncello. Limoncello with its bold citrus flavor and alcoholic punch is the perfect start to a company-worthy dinner, and it takes only 30 minutes from start to finish.
5. Roasted Limoncello Drumsticks
Chicken drumsticks (legs) are so easy to prepare; they stay moist and are (almost) finger food. What's not to love?
These limoncello roasted drumsticks are easy enough for a weeknight family meal or could be the MVP for a gathering of friends watching a sporting event on TV. High heat roasted chicken legs are bathed in limoncello and thyme-infused sauce. No marinating needed and done in an hour.
6. Liimoncello Tiramisu
One of the most well-known desserts of Italy is the tiramisu. Traditional versions feature chocolate and espresso. Alison shows her creativity in fusing two Italian classics in this limoncello tiramisu. Exchanging limoncello for the chocolate/coffee makes a refreshingly tart-sweet dessert, perfect for brunch or a special summertime meal outdoors.
7. Sorrento Double Lemon Cake
This super-moist cake has the texture of dense pound cake. Double lemon cake has a dual punch of citrus flavor with fresh lemon zest in the batter, and a creamy white glaze of fresh lemon juice and limoncello.
© 2021 Linda Lum